By Caleb Lynn | @CalebLynn1
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – Just before each game in this memorable University of Iowa season, seniors Megan Gustafson and Hannah Stewart come together to remind each other of their plan. Demonstrative is the word they use. The assertiveness of Gustafson, a 6-foot, 3-inch center and Big Ten Player of the Year, and Stewart, a 6-2 forward, led the Hawkeyes to a 70-61 victory over Indiana and a spot in the semifinals.
Second-seeded Iowa (24-6) will meet No. 3 Rutgers at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Gustafson scored 30 points, her 11th 30-point game this season, the most in Division I, and set a school record with 832 points. Gustafson’s 17 rebounds tied her second-highest total of the season. Stewart had nine points with 13 rebounds, one less than her season high.
Indiana (20-12), was led by junior guard Ali Patberg, who scored 25 points. With 5:20 to play, Patberg’s two free throws put the Hoosiers ahead, 54-53, equaling their biggest lead.
But in the last 4 minutes, 26 seconds, during Iowa’s 17-7 run that regained a lead for good, it was Gustafson’s seven points and five rebounds that took control of the game.
“I am not doing this for myself,” Gustafson said. “I am going to take those hits every single time so I can get my teammates open.”
Gustafson had as many as three Hoosiers guarding her. She drew nine fouls, one less than the entire Indiana team. Gustafson made eight of nine free throws. Her four assists tied for the second most among the Hawkeyes.
“There’s no recipe,” said Indiana coach Teri Moren. “… What we try to do was just make it difficult. We tried to dig as much as we could just to create some activity every time she caught it. We wanted a second defender to be there.
“But then you worry about, again, if you don’t recover quick enough, you’re going to leave some of their terrific shooters on the outside open.”
Gustafson and Stewart combined for 30 of Iowa’s 39 rebounds. Indiana had 32.
“I have a big target on my back and Indiana did a nice job of sending in extra players,” Gustafson said, “and fortunately I was able to find my guards outside so they could hit some threes.”
Iowa made 43.8 of its 3-point shots, with junior Makenzie Meyer, who scored 12 points, making four of nine from beyond the line.
“After playing Indiana the first time we knew we were going to get open with threes,” Meyer said, “And Megan does such a great job of passing the ball out and the in and out three is such a great look for us…”
Iowa’s interior strength has become a signature this season. When the Hawkeyes have outrebounded their opponents, their record is 21-0.
“I think overall we know that games can be won or lost off the boards,” Stewart said, “and it was our job to get as many boards as we can but most importantly defensive rebounds.”
When the opponents have outrebounded the Hawkeyes, Iowa’s record is 2-6.
“I think you have got to finish up your defensive possession with a rebound,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, “and those two did a great job with that.”
Iowa’s 75-73 loss at Indiana on Feb. 21 was its only defeat in the last nine games. The Hawkeyes were outrebounded, 40-35, in that game, which created a point of emphasis.
“We knew how they were going to guard Megan a little bit more and that was nice to come into the game kind of knowing what was going to happen,” Bluder said. “I thought Hannah started off really well… We were anticipating the double and I think Hannah did a great job of cutting back door and getting that for us.”
Stewart understands that Gustafson is too good to only have one person guarding her. “I think the awesome thing about our team is that no matter whose defender goes and gets her then that leaves that person open and then that person would score,” Stewart said. “I knew that early on they took my person off of her and that I needed to be ready to hit open shots.”